Global right to information rankings: Established democracies falling behind

Monday, September 30, 2013
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By Grant Buckler Canada’s position in a global ranking of right to information laws has slipped again, though only slightly, dropping to 56th in the annual ratings prepared by the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy and Access Info Europe of Madrid. Canada was not alone, though: Most established democracies with long-standing access to information laws have been falling lower in the ratings as countries that previously had no such legislation introduce laws that are generally stronger than the older laws in place in North America and Western Europe. As J-Source previously reported, when CLD and AIE published their first rankings in 2011, Canada placed 42nd of 89 countries studied. Last year, Canada was 55th in a field of 93. This year the organizations ranked 95 countries that have so far adopted right to information laws. In a report analysing trends in their ratings, CLD and AIE note that new and emerging democracies dominate the highest rankings, while more established democracies are clustered farther down the list. “More specifically, of the top 21 countries, only one is from Western Europe, eight are from East and Central Europe, five from Latin America and the Caribbean, three each from Africa and Asia and one from the Middle East,” says the report. “With a couple of exceptions, these are countries where the general outlook in terms of human rights and good governance tends to be improving.” The top five countries in this year’s ranking are Serbia, Slovenia, India, Liberia and El Salvador. The bottom five – starting from the lowest – are Austria, Leichtenstein, Tajikistan, Germany and Jordan. The rankings don’t include countries with no access to information laws. Established democracies that have had access to information laws for years – Canada’s was passed in 1983 – have fallen behind as newer laws build on those that came before. “Laws that were drafted more recently have had the advantages of learning from the mistakes or failures of laws that were written earlier and of being able to reference clear international standards in this area,” the report observes. “Furthermore, the years since 1995 have seen the emergence of increasingly powerful both civil society networks and international community advocacy in favour of strong RTI laws, which have facilitated the sharing of information about better practice and international standards, and also created pressure for positive law reform.” As J-Source reported in June, federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault called in a Toronto Star op-ed piece for an overhaul of Canada’s access to information legislation. In doing so Legault cited last year’s CLD and AIE rankings. The global good news, according to CLD and AIE, is that more countries are passing right to information laws and the laws being passed today are better than those of the past. The rankings rate each country’s law on seven criteria. Of these, scope, requesting procedures, exceptions and refusals and appeals carry more weight, while right of access, sanctions and protections and promotion carry less. The organizations note that the rankings reflect the strength of the laws, not actual compliance. This article is also posted on J-Source.
Grant Buckler is a freelance journalist based in Kingston, ON, and member of CJFE's Canadian Issues Committee

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